This is a continuation of a series I started a long time ago. Maybe you remember it: two couples out for dinner together, the internal thoughts of each one? Read the opening thoughts of each of them: James, Elaine, Oliver and Genevieve. And now back to James again…
It always begins with words. Some will try to tell you it’s the sight of someone that brings on those first feelings of love, but that’s just lust, hormones, chemicals. Love, genuine affection, true feelings —they begin with words. The problems arise when the words are lies.
The ride home from the restaurant was quiet. I made several attempts at conversation, but gave up after receiving one or two word answers in return. I thought Elaine would say something about the way Genevieve and I talked for once. I wondered if she had noticed our hands touch across the table, or if she had been too enthralled with Ollie’s fawning. Whatever the case, she had no more words for me. Not tonight anyway.
I stole a quick glance at her out of the corner of my eye. Her pretty face was lighted from the glow of her phone’s screen. Facebook or Instagram, no doubt. She could spend hours scrolling through the newsfeed. Watching cooking videos for recipes she’d never try, taking trivia quizzes and commenting on all her many friends’ posts. Everyone’s highlight reel. I couldn’t understand it. It was fake life. By the time we got home, she would have posted photos of our meals, the selfie she took as soon as we got to our table and maybe a shot of me when I wasn’t looking. It was our fake life, too.
I met Elaine the old fashioned way —in a bar. I had gone out with a couple of other guys from the firm to celebrate winning a hard fought and highly lucrative settlement for our clients. The Bar was so named to attract the lawyers who had situated their offices strategically near the center city courthouse. Tonight my colleagues and I bought rounds of drinks for the house, toasted each other on our performances and got joyfully wasted in short order. So that was the state of things when Elaine and her friends walked in and settled at a table in the back. She was lovely. Flawless skin, dark hair she had piled in a loose bun with tendrils framing her face, dimples that appeared when she smiled —and she smiled often as I watched her.
For a man who needs to display unassailable confidence in front of the court, I am not especially outgoing when it comes to people in general. I am not unfriendly, just choosy about whom I decide to call a friend. So if not for alcohol fueled courage, I might never have approached the table of four women. Might never have talked with Elaine way past the time our friends had left for the night. All those words…
Sometimes, when that initial lust, those hormones and chemicals make the brain function poorly, you pretend. You pretend that every word the other person says to you is the most interesting thing in the world. You agree about everything. You like all the same things. You fake your way through topics of conversation in which you haven’t a clue. You hope the other person doesn’t notice.
I didn’t notice. Out of character, I did most of the talking, Elaine smiled, nodded, agreed, seemed genuinely interested. In retrospect, I realized that she asked questions to keep me talking —a deflection so I would’t catch on that she knew nothing about history, the law, classical music, Renaissance art. When last call came I was besotted. I asked her if we could see each other again and she readily agreed. I kissed her goodnight as she got into a taxi.
On our first date, I took her to the art museum. She had seemed enthusiastic that night at The Bar when I told her about the exhibit I wanted to see. She played the part perfectly that day and the next time we went out and for all the times after that as well. We fell in love. I proposed. We got married.
When in a relationship do the blinders come off? Or for that matter, when do we take our masks off and show our true selves? It’s never abrupt, rather more like a subtle slippage over time. Begging off on the gallery opening, staring at her iPad instead of the film on TV, playing her streaming music instead of mine. I can’t remember ever really noticing, not until I saw how she was with Oliver. It was the way we used to be in the beginning. Except this time, it didn’t feel like she was pretending.